Does Cold Water Therapy Work?

With the start to a New Year many people will be initiating an exercise routine for the first time, getting back after a lay-off from being active or maybe stepping up their efforts while the motivation at this time of year is higher.

Muscle Soreness Accompanies New Physical Activity

And with all this extra activity many are going to experience DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and not have a strategy in place to deal with their discomfort. I am one of those people.

While I was in Switzerland I had a chance to do some skiing and I wanted to make the most of it. By this I mean riding the gondola up at 745 am for first tracks and not stopping until 3 pm when my legs were getting a little jello-y and I knew I had to call it a day or risk crashing hard.

But after 7 hours of hard skiing I knew I would be in rough shape the next day unless I did something for my recovery. So I headed to the hotel gym to do some light cardio to enhance the recovery process.

Honourary USA Bobsled Member

Check out the newest member of USA Bobsled!

Check out the newest member of USA Bobsled!

Upon arriving at what I thought was the gym I realized I was at the spa which was accessible to those who had booked massages and other spa treatments. As I entered the spa I was behind two other people who were actually members of the USA bobsled team in St Moritz for some World Cup races.

The bobsledders mentioned to the spa attendant that they had spa privileges while staying at the hotel. The attendant then proceeded to make up three collections of robes, towels, and shower shoes for the spa.

As soon as I recognized I was being hooked up with a spa pass for appearing to be with the bobsledders I kept my mouth shut and entered with them.

Into the Cold Plunge

And this is where I was able to jump in the cold water plunge and really get the inflammation under control from the day on the slopes. The only problem was that the female spa attendant would walk through the men’s spa to supply towels, collect garbage and make yours truly freaked out by this arrangement.

While I jumped in the cold plunge in my birthday suit I panicked at the thought of being stuck in there as the attendant worked around the room. I quickly imagined this similar to being burned at the stake except I was being frozen in a cold plunge. I also tried to convince myself that this would be good practice for the cold water obstacles at Tough Mudder.

The visualization strategies must have worked as I neither froze nor had an embarrassing encounter with the spa attendant.

Does Cold Water Therapy Actually Work?

Now for all my troubles was this all worth it? I mean what does the research say about cold water baths for recovery?

Well, first of all some of the studies ask the question about perceived muscular discomfort. This is hard to put a lot of faith in as it is a subjective question and sometimes if someone wants to believe something works they answer in the affirmative. So although there is support for cold water therapy for decreased muscle soreness I’m not a huge fan of these types of studies.

Other studies show cold water baths to be most effective when used with warm water to create a contrast therapy. The constriction and dilation of vessels helps to  facilitate the removal of waste products and the supply of oxygen to fatigued tissues. Typically a 30 second bout of cold followed by the same in warm can be repeated 5 times or so to achieve the benefits.

In addition to contrast therapy this can be enhanced by some light cardio, some mobility work to targeted muscles, re-hydrating 2 cups of water per pound of water lost, quality nutrition and a good night’s sleep.

These all helped me bounce back and feel no soreness or tightness the next day. I felt so good I was able to ski some gates on a slalom course at Corvatsch which should have had my pass pulled and kicked off the hill. Stay tuned for my next post on the world leader and celebrities staying at my hotel that may have saved me from this punishment.

Plus if you want a full report with 8 recovery strategies make sure to leave a comment below and I’ll send one to your inbox.

Chris [fb-like]






2 Responses to Does Cold Water Therapy Work?

  1. Tricia Eggeling says:

    Chris…your experience would have made an awesome Seinfeld episode. Hilarious! And you skied a slalom course at Corvatsch and lived to tell?!?! I’m not a jealous person, but I might just be about this! But a cold water plunge after a full day of ‘freeze my ass off’ skiing? No thank you… Hot Tub please!

    • Chris says:

      Another Seinfeld fan? I knew you were a great fit for our community! We’ll have to sign you up for our Feats of Strength Contest during Festivus in December.


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